murreyandblue

A great WordPress.com site

Archive for the tag “Sir William Stanley”

SHAKESPEARE’S RICHARD III: HERO OR VILLAIN?

” Never let it be said that fate itself could awe the soul of Richard.

           Hence babbling dreams, you threaten here in vain;

           Conscience avaunt, Richard’s himself again”

(The tragical history of King Richard the Third)[1]


 

Richard’s himself again: or is he?

There is a moment in Olivier’s film of Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tragedy of King Richard the Third’ that is not Shakespearean. It occurs during the Bosworth scene just as the king is about to ride into battle. Unnerved by the ghostly apparitions in the night of his vengeful victims, Richard’s courage seems to desert him (‘O Ratcliffe, I fear, I fear ‘). However, the sight and sound of Richmond’s army approaching rouses his natural ‘heroical temperament’ and as he rides away he whispers in White Surrey’s ear ‘Richard’s himself again’, which is not a phrase you will find in any extant Quarto or Folio edition of the play. It is, in fact, an interpolation from Coley Cibber’s seventeenth century adaptation and a small but significant example of Olivier’s editing. Its purpose is to reinforce the notion that Richard’s courage and resolution are unimpaired on the morning of battle. Its importance to Cibber (and presumably to Olivier also) is that it counters the insinuation in some interpretations of the play that King Richard was demoralized by guilt, fear and desperation at Bosworth.

 

Even though Olivier’s film is so heavily modified that much the subtlety of Shakespeare’s original play is lost, it should not be thought that his adaptation is inartistic. He is simply one of a number of distinguished actors and directors who between the reigns of the first and second Elizabeth have imposed their artistic ambition on the play. The point is that Shakespeare’s plays are not fossils set in stone. They are each subject to historical relativity and usage. Succeeding generations of actors, directors and producers have adapted them according to their artistic taste or the cultural, social and political ethos of their society. Indeed, it is possible that this play was used as a metaphor for exploring the concerns of contemporary first Elizabethans as well as those of later cultures. Modern performances of the play have portrayed Richard as a proxy for Hitler, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, and ‘Rikki Ortega’ (a fictitious Californian gangster) among others.[2] Henry Goodman in the RSC’s 2003 production found ‘parallels for Richard’s deranged mind’ in the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter.[3] Anthony Sher (1984), looking for clues of Richard’s stage personality studied the psychology of the real serial killer and necrophile Dennis Nilsen who murdered at least twelve men between 1978 and 1983. Contemporary socio-cultural themes such as physical and mental disability, gender, racial and class discrimination, and the importance of Richard III as a ‘case study’ of tyranny, are all now aspects of modern performances. [4] In fact, so different is the public taste for this play today that I wonder whether Shakespeare would recognize it as the one he wrote for Richard Burbage in the last decade of the sixteenth century.

 

Sign of the times

The play that Shakespeare actually wrote was an immediate smash-hit financially and critically. Moreover, Burbage’s portrayal of Richard was so powerful that it defined performances of the play for generations afterwards and contributed an epic snippet of Shakespearean erotic mythology, which we learn from John Manningham, a student at the Inner Temple, who wrote in his diary in 1602: ‘Upon a time when Burbage played Richard III there was a citizen grew so far in liking with him, that before she went from the play she appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard III. Shakespeare, overhearing their conclusion, went before, was entertained and at his game ere Burbage came. The message being brought that Richard III was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard III.’ I don’t know whether this anecdote is true or not, but it is at the very least an indication of the sensuousness of Shakespeare’s characterization of Richard and the popularity of his play.

 

The old adage that ‘plays are meant to be performed not read’ may be corny but it’s true nonetheless. The importance of actors and directors in shaping our opinion of this play cannot be overstated. In my copy of the RSC’s text, it states quite clearly that the best way to understand this play is to see or ideally to participate in it. It is my aim in this article to explore the theme of change in the production, presentation and performance of Richard III. Naturally, I am aware that it is this play that is in no small part responsible for the historical Richard’s bad reputation. Nevertheless, having written some articles in favour of the factual Richard III, I feel compelled to write a few lines in defence of the fictional one and the man who created him.

 

The distinction I make between the fictional and the factual Richard is not artificial and it is important. It is ignored or blurred too often and for too long in discussions and analysis of the play or the man. [5]  There are almost as many myths about the play as there are about Richard. Chief among these is the notion that Shakespeare is personally to blame for the misjudgement of history. I hope to show that is not true and that Shakespeare was far from being a Tudor stooge. While there is no doubt that he embraced the Tudor narrative of Richard as a villain or that he structured his play around the Tudor histories of Thomas More and Edward Hall, Shakespeare doesn’t make Richard out to be as bad as he might have done.

 

‘Matters of state, not fit to be suffered’

We now have a better appreciation of Tudor bias. The depiction of Richard as a monstrous villain without any redeeming characteristics was necessary to bolster Henry VII’s weak royal title. The fact is that in Tudor England and particularly during the Elizabethan period the condemnation of Richard in literature was practically unanimous. Regardless of his personal opinion, therefore, Shakespeare had little choice other than to conform to the ‘tenets of Tudor orthodoxy’. The Privy Council enforced strict censorship of ‘certain matters of state not fit to be suffered’. Shakespeare would have been extremely foolish to depart from the prescribed doctrine on touchy issues such as the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty.[6] The contemporary notion of kingship held that it was contrary to God’s law to depose a crowned and anointed king. Even a tyrant enjoyed God’s protection; however, whereas a tyrant must be endured a usurper was outside God’s law and could be overthrown with impunity. It was, therefore, necessary to depict Richard III as a usurper and a tyrant. Otherwise, it would call into question Tudor legitimacy and, more importantly, the validity of Elizabeth’s succession.[7]

 

In that context, it is all the more remarkable that Shakespeare does not depict Richard as the unrelieved monster of Tudor dogma. He is charismatic and his sardonic humour soon has the audience laughing with him; indeed, they are, in a sense, his co-conspirators. From the moment he enters the stage, Richard takes control of the play and the audience. Conversely, Shakespeare does all he can to downplay Richmond’s role. He writes nothing to make him personally attractive to the audience. He is not even mentioned until the fourth act and doesn’t appear on stage until the last. There is no scope for the audience to form any sort of relationship with such a boring, distant and obscure antagonist. Neither does Shakespeare write anything to counter suggestions that Richmond’s claim to the throne is questionable. In fact, it is soon clear that Richard cannot be defeated by any human adversary, least of all Richmond whose sole purpose is to be the clunky deus ex machina figure who is still alive at the end;[8] it is an indication of his dramatic irrelevance. I will return to these points later but for now I want to mention the play’s textual history.

 

Textual problems

Shakespeare wrote this play either in 1692 or 1694. The case for 1692 is based entirely on speculation about Shakespeare’s professional relationship with Ferdinando Lord Strange, a descendant of William Stanley the earl of Derby.[9] Although that date cannot be dismissed out of hand, it seems more likely that the play was written in 1594 for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. They were by far the most important and influential company of actors and in Richard Burbage they had the greatest actor of his generation. Writing for them was a good career move for Shakespeare who needed a star actor to play Richard. The Tragedy of Richard III together with the three parts of Henry VI comprised Shakespeare’s first tetralogy of history plays.[10] He wrote the second tetralogy about a few years later. Confusingly, these plays are about earlier kings: Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Henry V. The two tetralogies together chart the course of English history from the reign Richard II to the death of Richard III.

 

It is disappointing — to say the least — that none of the surviving Quarto and Folio texts of this play were authorised by Shakespeare. Experts cannot even be sure whether the synthetic text currently used in performance is an accurate representation of the version first performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The Quarto text of the play (a small booklet) was printed in 1597 (Q1) and thereafter re-printed five times (in 1598,1602,1605,1612 and 1622). Unfortunately, each re-print was copied from the previous one, thus perpetuating existing errors and adding new ones. Consequently, every print after Q1 is different from every other print, which makes the Quarto version useless as a performance text. It is possible (I put it no higher) that Q1 is a ‘memorial’ version of the play assembled from memory by actors who had lost or forgotten their prompt sheets, or who wished to streamline the play for a provincial performance.[11] The First Folio (F1) version of the play was published in 1623 as part of a compendium of Shakespeare’s plays. It might have been copied from an independent manuscript that pre-dates Q1 (Is it Shakespeare’s original version? Who knows?) Understanding the relationship between these versions of the play is the most difficult textual problem of all Shakespeare’s plays; it has troubled scholars for years. F1 is longer than Q1. Whether, this us due to a reduction in Q1 or an enlargement of F1 is anyone’s guess. All we can truthfully say about these texts is that they differ from each other and are error-full.[12]

 

Coley Cibber (1671-1757) was an actor-manager, who at the turn of the eighteenth century wrote and printed a vigorous and populist adaption of Shakespeare’s play. He reduced its length by cutting all but eight hundred lines from Shakespeare and adding two thousand of his own, together with lines from Henry V and Henry VI part 3. The characters of Clarence, Edward IV, Rivers and Queen Margaret are omitted altogether. Despite being mocked at the time for its crudity, Cibber version became the standard performance text from 1700 until 1821. It was not until the last quarter of the nineteenth century that the F1 became the preferred stage text play. Cibber understood his audience. Shakespeare’s play was too long for eighteenth century playgoers who had no connection with, or understanding of fifteenth century politics. The real problem for purists is that Cibber’s adaptation concentrates attention even more on Richard at the expense of his lively interactions with Edward, Clarence, Margaret and Buckingham, which make Shakespeare’s play so compelling.[13] In that sense, Cibber’s alterations are crude.

 

‘The Play’s the thing…’

‘The tragedy of King Richard the Third’ is indubitably a psychological profile of a dramatic villain. Richard’s solo entrance and memorable opening soliloquy are indicative of his dramatic dominance and also of Shakespeare’s artistic intention to create a star theatrical villain rather than continue the cyclic theme of atrocity and revenge, as seen in the Henrician plays.[14] It is a change, which whether intended or not, challenges the idea that the first tetralogy represent a serial epic that is intended to be seen as a set and in sequence after the second tetralogy. It is a conundrum that has produced two distinctly different schools of thought. One is teleological in nature; the other is analogical.

 

The teleological theory interprets the cycle of history plays from Richard II to Richard III within the context of Tudor historiology and literature. The death of Richard III is seen as the preordained end of a curse that had afflicted England since the murder of Richard II. In the three parts of Henry VI, Shakespeare constantly links the present with the past. He never lets us forget that the usurpation of Henry Bolingbroke and the murder of Richard of Bordeaux were the root causes of division and tumult. Professor EMW Tillyard writing in the mid twentieth century argues that all four plays are united in political themes of order and chaos, and unity and civil war. : “The main business of the play [Richard III] is to complete [the] national tetralogy and to display the working out of God’s plan to restore England to prosperity…in its function of summing-up and completing what has gone before, Richard III inevitable suffers as a detached unit.” [15] He asserts that such a conclusion is inescapable in view of the ‘plays failure to remember’ Clarence’s perjury to Warwick, Queen Margaret’s mock crowning of York, the murder of Rutland and the murder of Prince Edward by York’s sons; If it were not so, implies Tillyard, the play would not make sense to audiences. ” For the purposes of the tetralogy and most obviously for this play, Shakespeare accepted the prevalent belief that God had guided England into the haven of Tudor prosperity” [16] Tillyard’s suggestion that Richard III is a religious play can only be substantiated if it is judged according to the traditional Tudor narrative, wherein both Richard and Richmond are God’s instruments. Richard is God’s scourge; Richmond, his emissary.

 

Tillyard’s only concession to Richard’s dramatic importance is that he is so evil and depraved, and his sins are so vast that his evil is absorptive and not contagious “He is the great ulcer of the body politic into which all impurity is drained and against which all the body politic are united.”[17] Nowadays, Tillyard’s ideas are regarded as sentimental “The view from a Cambridge college window looking out at a world at war [the Second World War] and nostalgic for a more stable and comprehensible historical process”[18] Whilst there are some obvious flaws in professor Tillyard’s logic, it is ridiculous to suggest that his ideas are based on nothing more than wishful thinking. However, his assumption that all Elizabethan’s shared the Tudor view of harmony is patently untrue. There was extreme political and religious division among the population.

 

The play’s theatrical history shows that from the sixteenth century until the twenty first century, political thinkers have used it as a medium for expressing their concerns in times of oppression and/or suppression. These performances use Richard’s rise to power, his elimination of opponents, his dissembling and his amorality as an oblique warning against the onset of tyranny in their own times. The fact that the play lends itself to this approach indicates that it is far more complicated than professor Tillyard suggests. It’s a point picked up by Sir Richard Eyre, former Artistic Director of The National Theatre. His production of Richard III starring Ian Mckellen toured the world in 1990 and inspired the subsequent film. Eyre’s decision to set the play in the 1930’s during the rise of Fascism was an artistic one based on his opinion that ” We have to keep thinking of ways of doing Shakespeare’s plays. They don’t have absolute meanings. There is no fixed, frozen way of doing them. Nobody can mine a Shakespeare play and discover a ‘solution’ [sic].” [19] However, in 1991 he took the play to Rumania, which he regarded as its spiritual home and used its enduring political power as a warning against tyrants such as the Romanian despot Ceausescu, and others such as Stalin and Mao Tse Tung. Eyre even suggests that Richard III could be seen as a handbook for Tyrants.

 

I must admit that the most memorable performances that I have seen (Olivier, Mckellen, Sher and Rylance) have been when the play was performed alone rather than as one of a sequence of plays. As a schoolboy, I watched the BBC’s 1960 production ‘Age of Kings’ in which  the first and second tetralogies were broadcast over many weeks. As I recall, Paul Daneman was a drab and unconvincing Richard and Sean Connery was a surreal Hotspur. I found Peter Hall’s 1963 RSC production of the Wars of the Roses, which was based on the first tetralogy, equally uninspiring. Ian Holm’s Richard being small of stature was incapable of dominating the play physically or dramatically. I was not impressed. I learned later that this casting was deliberate. The aim was to portray Richard as just another royal pretender.

 

My difficulty with the teleological and analogical concepts is that they are prescriptive. Tillyard’s Richard is God’s instrument and therefore not responsible for his actions as the end is pre-ordained. The notion that the play is actually a metaphor for tyranny is equally limiting since it dismisses Richard as nothing more than a cruel brute of a type that historically were responsible for countless innocent deaths. In my personal opinion, neither approach does justice to Shakespeare’s artistry and this play’s complexity. The reality is that Richard displays aspects of both theories and more. We cannot even be sure of the play’s genre. Shakespeare called it a ‘tragedy’; the compilers of the First Folio, classified it as a ‘history’. In the last century, professor AP Rossiter identified elements of comedy in the play. What are we supposed to think? I don’t believe that Shakespeare’s creativity was limited by anything so rigid as genre. Polonius’ suggests as much in this little speech to Hamlet wherein he introduces ‘the actors’ to the prince. “The best actors in the world either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited. Seneca cannot be too heavy, not Plautus too light for the law of writ and the liberty, these are the only men.” [20] I like to think that Shakespeare was writing from his experience with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

 

Shakespeare’s description of the play as a tragedy does not imply an ethical or emotional judgement. It is a definition of the plays structure, which is based on the classical Senecan tragedies that depict the rise of great men and their downfall at fortune’s wheel.[21] It is Shakespeare’s way of heralding his artistic transition from the dramatization of chronicle histories to the creation of a histrionic and complex theatrical protagonist as the centrepiece of his drama. It was professor A P Rossiter in a lecture given ten years after Tillyard’s book who drew attention to the paradoxicality of Richard’s character, which he suggests “…decisively complicates the plays moral and political significance.[22] The problem as Rossiter sees it, is the illogicality between the concept of Richard as ‘a huge triumphant stage figure’ and his depiction by Tillyard within a rigid Tudor concept of retributive justice. Richard contradicts the expressly Christian notion of the Vice character in medieval morality plays; he is “…a heroic exemplar of humankind as being able to exert will; the world is poorer for his loss.”[23] This characterization also undermines the simplistic analogical idea that Richard is simply an evil man in a long line of evil men.

 

Shakespeare’s apparent conformity with conventional Tudor historiography is therefore complicated by his depiction of Richard as a caricature combining features from three theatrical characters familiar to Elizabethan audiences: the ‘de Casibus tragedian’[24], the demonic-comedian Vice character of the morality plays and the Marlovian Machiavellian of the Elizabethan stage. Above all, Shakespeare’s Richard is an actor. He is charming, witty, intelligent and eloquent, and dissembles his many parts so brilliantly that those whom he intends to kill do not realise until the very last moment that he is not their friend. He is Shakespeare’s version of a ‘thoroughly bad man in the role of a monarch and hero’ Rossiter describes him thus: ” He [is] a mocking comedian, a ‘Vice’ king but with a clear inheritance from the old Vice moralities: part symbol of evil, part comic devil and chiefly — on stage — the generator of roars of laughter at wickedness the audience would …condemn in reality.”[25]

 

His sardonic sense of humour is not a conventional rendering of Tudor doctrine. He makes us laugh. We are on his side. We enjoy this gritty comedy because we are Richard’s confidantes. We see the fools he dupes through his eyes and with his mind. We rejoice in their downfall. Richard is not just a consummate actor; he is also a consummate villain. He knows what he wants. He delights in telling us what he is going to do, and he does it. He can assume any mood or passion at will. He is believed without question. He has perfected simulation of every feeling and phrase to serve his purpose. And he has eliminated any weakness that might betray him, such as feelings of compunction, pity and uncertainty of mind.[26] Richard has all the qualities of the complete Machiavellian: ” …lifelong and unremitting vigilance in relentless simulation and indomitable deception.” [27] By presenting Richard in this form, Shakespeare is neither proving nor de-bunking the Tudor myth. Instead of certainty we have only ambiguity.

 

[1] Coley Cibber – The tragical history of King Richard the Third. Altered from Shakespeare by Coley Cibber, Esq. (London 1769 print) p.66

[2] John Jowett (ed) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Oxford 2000) p.17; Annalieze Connelly (ed) – Richard III: a critical reader (Bloomsbury/Arden 2013) pp.111-150 passim.

[3] Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen (eds) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Macmillan/RSC Shakespeare 2008) p.167.

[4] Bate ibid; Connolly pp.33-45 passim; the rise of Material Culturism has politicized the play. Material Culturists use a close examination of the play’s text to identify the ‘dominant hegemonic force in society’ (e.g. Crown, Church, Family and so forth) and the methods for disseminating their doctrine/ideology. By analyzing the text Material Culturists hope to spot examples of dissent and complicity with the dominant force’s doctrine/ideology. It is a methodology that tends to spotlight those people who are disadvantaged and/or marginalized by society, by virtue of their race, religion, gender, class or disability.

[5] Stephen Greenblatt – Tyrant: Shakespeare on power (The Bodley Head 2018) pp.53-95; professor Greenblatt has an interesting theory on tyrants and especially how they come to power. His view of Richard is wholly negative. He is a ‘worthless piece of work. There is no secret about his cynicism, cruelty and [treachery], no glimpse of anything redeemable in him and no reason to believe he could ever rule the country effectively… he leaves nothing behind except wreckage. It would have been better had he never been born’. Greenblatt is a professor of the Humanities and an expert on the works of Shakespeare: I am not. Nevertheless, there is much about his book with which I disagree. It is, I believe a good example of the simplistic thinking that comes from basing an opinion of the play on a study of the text conducted in an academic vacuum without the context of performance. But most of all I cannot accept his premise that Shakespeare’s characterization of Richard is an accurate representation of the real man, or that it was ever intended to be

[6] Greenblatt pp.1-23; contains a discussion on Shakespeare’s freedom of speech in the context of late Elizabethan religious fanaticism, domestic political intrigue and the threat to the English succession from a foreign power.

[7] Jowett pp.11-16

[8] Shorter Oxford English Dictionary – “dues ex machina (literally: ‘God from the machine’): a divine power, event, or person arriving in time to solve a difficulty (often rather contrived) interposition, esp. in a novel or play”. For example, ‘and then I woke up’.

[9] Jowett PP. 4-6; Shakespeare’s manipulation of history to put a positive spin on William Stanley’s part in Richard III’s downfall has tempted some scholars to speculate that the play was written in 1692 for Lord Strange’s Men. Ferdinando Lord Strange was a descendant of the said Thomas Stanley Earl of Derby and also of Henry VII (by Henry’s granddaughter Margaret Clifford). This may explain why Shakespeare has tactfully ignored Stanley’s acquiescence in Hastings’ execution, his part in crushing Buckingham’s rebellion, the rewards he received from King Richard and his ‘wait and see’ policy in 1485. Thomas Stanley is also portrayed as leading the Stanley contingent that surrounded and killed the King, whereas it was actually his brother William. It might also explain why Thomas Stanley has such a prominent role in the final scenes: presenting Henry with his crown and predicting the joyous union of York and Lancaster. Lord Strange and his family were noted for their Roman Catholic sympathies; however, in true Stanley fashion they managed to keep on the right side of the Reformation by hunting down Jesuits. From both the protestant and the catholic perspectives, Strange’s loyalty was suspect.

[10] Jowett pp. 73-74; the three Henrician plays were first published under the following titles: The First part of Henry VI (taken from the First Folio, there being no earlier text); The Contention of the Houses of York and Lancaster (now Henry VI part 2) and The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and the Good King Henry the Sixth (now Henry VI part 3).

[11] Bate p.18; the title of the 1597 print makes interesting reading: “The Tragedy of King Richard the Third, containing the treacherous plots against his brother Clarence; the pitiful murder of his innocent nephews; his tyrannical usurpation; with the whole course of his detested life and deserved death. As has been lately performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s men, his servants”

[12] Jowett pp.110-120; Bate pp.9-15; both these editors provides extensive discussion on the textual chronology and problems arising from Quarto and Folio editions. See also Julie Hankey (ed) – Shakespeare’s Richard III in Performance (Junction Books 1981) pp. 27-32. It is also worth considering EAJ Honigmann (ed) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Penguin 1968) pp. 242-244. His textual notes were still helpful to me fifty years after they were written.

[13] Bate p.16; Richard had 32% of the lines in F1; more than any other Shakespearean protagonist except Hamlet (37%). Richmond by comparison has 4% of the lines, which is an index of his artistic importance. In Cibber’s adaptation, Richard’s share rises to 40%.

[14] Richards solo appearance and his opening soliloquy are unique in the Shakespearean canon. He is the only protagonist to open and speak first in his own play.

[15] EMW Tillyard – Shakespeare’s History Plays (Penguin 1962) pp.200-04

[16] Tillyard ibid

[17] Tillyard p.208

[18] Connelly pp. 33-45;

[19] Bate and Rasmussen p.200

[20] TJB Spencer (ed) – Hamlet by William Shakespeare (Penguin 1996) p.115 Act 2, Scene 2; ‘the law of writ and the liberty plays’: Polonius is distinguishing between plays that follow classical principles, like Ben Johnson’s and plays like Shakespeare’s with greater freedom of structure. The mixture of tragical-comical-historical-pastoral seems absurd until we recall that Shakespeare wrote Cymbeline.

[21] Jowett pp. 23-24; Seneca (BC 4-AD 65) was a Roman stoic philosopher and dramatist. He is famous for ten tragical plays that depict the rise of great men and their ruination or self-destruction due to uncontrolled emotion or madness. Seneca was widely read in medieval and renaissance Christendom. His tragedies influenced Shakespeare and other Elizabethan writers.

[22] AP Rossiter – Angels with Horns: fifteen lectures on Shakespeare (Longman 1989 edition) pp.1-22; see also Jowett p.10.

[23] Jowett pp.10-11 citing Nicholas Brooke – Shakespeare’s Early Tragedies (1968) pp. 78-79.

[24] De Casibus vivorum illustrium (on the fate of famous men): this is an encyclopedia of historical biographies dealing with the fortunes and calamities of famous men from Adam until the fourteenth century: not only their lives, but also their moral virtues.

[25] Rossiter p.15

[26] Rossiter p.17

[27] Rossiter ibid

 

Advertisements

A 19th-century description of Bosworth Field that is definitely pro-Richard….!

The old Blue Boar, Leicester

The following rather flowery but decidedly pro-Richard account of Bosworth is taken from an 1838 publication called ‘Legends of Leicester, in the olden time’, by Thomas Featherstone. London: Whittaker & Co., Ave Maria Lane. C. Tilt, Fleet Street. J.G. Brown, Leicester. You will find it here

I have copied the text as faithfully as I can, omitting passages that do not belong in the main description of the battle, and do not anyway concern Richard. The spelling is dodgy at times, and I have left most of it alone. There is also the question of some optical recognition software bloopers. I have corrected those which I feel certain are wrong (and for which I could easily guess what was meant) but there are a few that defied me. If I have blundered, I apologise, and can only say that my sins will be corrected by a visit to the website. The illustrations are my decorations.

Anyway, here is the section of the book that deals with Richard’s final battle. It commences at the Blue Boar inn, Leicester.

Bosworth Fight 

. . .On the following morning, as early as day-break, the streets rung with the preparations for an hasty march. The braying of trumpets, the hoarse shouting of the military leaders, the jingle of equipments, and the fierce trampling of caparisoned steeds, startled sleep from the pillows of those, whom the dissolute soldiery, overcome with intoxication, had eventually left to the enjoyment of a brief repose.

Richard leaving the Blue Boar

His highness appeared in unusual health and spirits, and mounted on his gallant charger, rode swiftly up and down the lines, inspiriting his army and animating his chieftains with uncontrollable enthusiasm. A bright sun and a smart, lively, breeze contributed in no small degree to the hilarity of every one present, and among that vast and glittering assemblage who were shortly to embark in stern and deadly strife, it would have been perhaps impossible to have detected one lugubrious or even thoughtful aspect. The ancient street of the High Cross, so far as the eye could stretch, bristled with staves, bows, and the various implements of ancient warfare, which with the morions and breast-plates of their bearers, glittered fiercely in the sun, while every window, roof and balustrade of the huge picturesque buildings, swarmed with spectators, and oft, as the cavalcade moved slowly along, a fair white hand, bearing a floral wreath, a silken scarf or some gentle love-token, was protruded from a crowd of gazers and reverently received on the lifted lance of the devoted Cavalier.

Richard leaves Leicester

A company of Knights, gorgeously apparelled, rode forward down the narrow Lane, now called Simons’ street, and past Saint Nicholas Church towards the West Bridge. Among them was his Highness, distinguished no less by his kingly bearing, than his costly attire, which so blazed with gems, that it dazzled the eye of the spectator almost as much as looking on the sun. Their hot impetuous steeds champed eagerly on the bit, and curvetted along in the utmost impatience of activity and vigour. The monarch relaxed from his usual austerity, and his aspect, which was at all times noble, and was capable of assuming an expression even of the most endearing tenderness, wreathed itself in smiles, and fired the hearts of those around him with the most enthusiastic devotion, and adherence to his cause.

On approaching Bow bridge which spans with five arches another arm of the river Soar. . . a. . .decrepid old woman stood conspicuous among the dense crowd which everywhere lined the path, and was shaking. . .violently with palsy. Her eye, which seemed to fix itself upon the king, gleamed with. . .apparent malignity. . .The Monarch appeared to regard all alike with smiles, but in crossing the bridge, partly perhaps from an exuberance of feeling no less than from the impatience natural to an impetuous spirit in being compelled to brook a temporary obstruction, created by the compact multitude and the narrowness of the path, struck his spur against the coping thereof. His horse swerving aside, pressed so closely upon the spectators, among whom crouched the old prophetess, that a volley of shrieks arose, and the afrighted crowd rushed tumultuously into the middle of the path, threatening every moment to be trampled under the hoofs of the horses.

The old Sibyl, however, stood daringly forth and stretching her withered arm in the face of the Monarch, screamed out in a startling treble which seemed incredible for her years, the following terrible prediction.

Bow Bridge in the 1790s

“Brave as ye now seem; tricked out daintily as ye are; the hour is at hand when ye shall be fain to change that joyous face for mourning and repentance! That gay attire for sack-cloth! Ye have spurned that stone with your heel—against it, ere three days be past, shall your head be beaten. Vain king, beware!” The toothless hag, overcome with her unwonted exertion, fell back among the crowd; and the monarch struck spurs into his horse, and rode on.

Bosworth Field is situate on the western border of Leicestershire, and derives its name from the market town, from which it is one mile distant. Its proper name is Redmoor plain, from the colour of the soil; as the meadows on the west, are called Whitemoors, for the same reason. It belongs to Sutton Cheney, an adjacent village on the east, is of an oval form, about two miles long and one broad, and runs nearly in a line between Bosworth and Atherstone. The south end, where the Earl (Tudor is called Earl of Richmond throughout) approached, is three miles from Bosworth, and is now covered with a wood of some extent, and bounded by a narrow rivulet called the Tweed.

King Richard’s Well

About thirty yards above this wood, is a spring which bears the name of ‘King Richard’s well,’ at the present day. A small stream of water flows from it in the direction of the Tweed; but, having no regular channel cut for its passage, it penetrates into the soil and forms a morass, which Henry is said to have left on his right. Amyon Hill, the scene of action, is nearly in the centre of the field, and has a steep descent on every side; but is steepest towards the north, or Bosworth side; and terminates with a rill, a bog, and a flat, called Amyon-leys. The country, however, at the period of the battle, presented an appearance widely different to that which it wears at the present time. The adjacent Lordships were then uninclosed, and Bosworth Field was one extent of rough uncultivated land.

Towards evening the King’s forces advanced upon Bosworth, where the Earl of Richmond’s army was also beheld approaching in gallant style: onward they came, flashing the red light of the descending sun from their steel equipments, and frowning mutual defiance at each other. Phalanx after phalanx of compact lances hove in sight, diversified with the vari-coloured plumes and pennons of the knights, until the country around presented no other aspect.

Richard galloped into the plain, and looking frowningly around, his penetration immediately led him to suspect that treachery was meditated. Lord Stanley, whose sincerity he had long had occasion to doubt, remained stationed, with an army of five thousand men, on an eminence termed Gamble’s close, about six furlongs behind the royal camp, from which it was separated by the little rivulet above mentioned. Sir William Stanley, approached the field on the west, opposite to the King and Lord Stanley, and pitched his camp at the foot of Amyon hill. It was the policy of the two brothers, to preserve every appearance of faith towards Richard, while they were both at heart devoted to the cause of his antagonist; and, as the wily monarch detained Lord Strange, as hostage for his father’s fidelity, the appearance on the part of Lord Stanley, was more strictly preserved.

King despatched Sir Robert Brackenbury, with a brief, but terrible message, to Lord Stanley, commanding him to join him forthwith, if he desired to preserve his son’s life; to which he returned a prevaricating reply: and the King was only withheld by the firmness of Lord Ferrers, of Chartley, from putting his threat into immediate execution; that nobleman having represented to him the evil, which might ensue to his own cause, by so doing.

The Earl of Richmond, meanwhile was not slow to gain over to his party all such, as were accessible either to adulation or bribery; and, observing the indecision of Lord Stanley, whose services he earnestly wished to secure from a dread of disappointment, immediately turned it to his advantage. A message was despatched to that nobleman forthwith, requesting his assistance, in the most flattering terms ; to which, however, he returned a doubtful reply; but intimated, that he should, probably, be found when needed. With this answer, the Earl, though much displeased was, notwithstanding, compelled to be satisfied, and left it to chance, to operate in his favour.

Meanwhile, as the shadows of twilight were rapidly closing around, the armies prepared to encamp; Richard, taking up his position at Stapleton, on some elevated grounds, called the Bradshaws, situate about a mile and a half east of Bosworth Field, and two from the top of Amyon hill—while Richmond stationed himself on the Whitemoors, one mile from the top of Amyon hill, and close beside the rivulet, whose semi-circular course skirted the camps of the rival chiefs, and passed near to those of the Stanleys, which fronted each other. . .

. . .The morning broke heavily over the plains of Bosworth, as if it mourned the carnage, that was about to ensue. The distance was veiled in a drizzling mist, through which, the adjacent trees, presented all manner of fantastic forms. The tents looked moist and chill, and the silken banners which surmounted them, rich with the gorgeous blazonry of their respective owners, hung heavily around their staffs, saturated with the prevailing vapour; while the steel equipments of horses and riders, shone dimly through the haze. With the first peep of dawn, however, the adverse camps were alive with preparation for the approaching conflict, and long ere the sun looked out from the watery east, the rival chieftains, had each drawn out his army.

The king’s troops were commanded to rendezvous in Sutton field, about midway to Amyon hill, where they were drawn up in order of battle, to the amount of about twelve thousand, horse and foot; thus nearly doubling the force of the enemy. His right extended to a declivity on the Bosworth side, called Cornhni furze, or Amyon leys; and his left towards the well which bears his name. Richmond took up his position with less advantage, having the hill against him, up which he must march, before he could commence the attack. Sir William Stanley advanced to the north of the hill, and stationed himself near Amyon leys, and Lord Stanley flanked either army on the opposite side.

In order to strike the more terror into his foes, the King marshalled his soldiers in two extended lines, placing the archers in front, and the bill-men in the rear, while his horse were divided upon the right and left wing. The King’s chief commanders were, John, Duke of Norfolk, and his son, Thomas, Earl of Surrey, who were appointed to lead the van, the Lord Northumberland, Sir Richard Ratcliffe, Sir Robert Brackenbury, and others. Hungerford and Boucher, two knights who had been ordered to attend, deserted Brackenbury their leader, a little beyond Stony Stratford, and joined Richmond’s army near Tamworth. Sir John Savage, Sir Bryan Sandford, Sir Simon Digby, also deserted to Richmond on the following day.

from warfarehistorynetwork.com

His forces being thus arrayed, the King, attired in a suit of armour of polished steel, and wearing on his head a helmet, of costly workmanship, surmounted with the crown, according to the ancient practice of knighthood, addressed them in a hasty speech against Richmond, whom he plentifully loaded with opprobrium.

The Earl’s forces, consisting of about seven thousand, horse and foot, were arrayed in similar order; and were led by the Earls of Pembroke and Oxford, Sir Gilbert Talbot, and Sir John Savage, commanding the right and left wing of horse; and not to be behind hand with his antagonist, the Earl galloped up and down the line, encouraging his followers and vituperating the King, whom he denounced as a tyrant and homicide.

The trumpets rang forth tumultuously—and the rival armies rushed at once to the onset. A cloud of arrows for a moment darkened the air; and immediately a grove of spears came splintering upon cuirass and morion, some transfixing, and overturning others, who in a moment were trampled out of existence, beneath the hoofs of the raging steeds. Fiercer every moment grew the affray, and for a length of time, the fortunes of the day hung wavering in the balance. The King rushed through the fight, with the impetuosity of an enraged lion, hewing a purple path through the thickest of the enemy, who fell before him, with scarcely an effort at resistance, so utterly reckless and terrible, was his daring.

by Graham Turner

During the heat of the conflict, the Earl of Oxford, observing his line scattered, ordered every man to close upon the standard, a step which seemed imprudent at the time, but had for its object a deep laid scheme, which had been previously planned. Thus having shortened his ranks by condensing his men, the Earl was approached by the Duke of Norfolk, who extended his left to surround him; in which critical moment. Lord Stanley, from flanking both armies, joined Richmond on the right and faced Richard’s left; thus preventing the meditated destruction, and striking terror into the hearts of the Royalists.

Norfolk, beheld the starry ensign of Oxford, waving above the bristling phalanx, and rushed to attack him, spear in rest: the ties of relationship were in a moment forgotten, and they strove against each other, with the fury and desperation of long engendered hate Their spears were quickly shivered to pieces, when each drew his mighty two-hand sword, and Norfolk, aiming the first blow, smote furiously at the helmet of his adversary, from which the weapon glanced obliquely, and wounded him severely, in the left arm. Oxford clove the beaver from the casque of his antagonist, and honourably declining to follow up his advantage, abandoned the combat. He had not retired many paces, however, when, the Duke was struck in the face, by an arrow, which pierced his brain. . .

. . .”Stand to it Gentlemen!” shouted a noble leader, coming up with a small detachment of cavalry, in time to check their retreat. ” Beat back the rebel scoundrels or perish! Ho, there! Forward men! Surrey to the rescue! Surrey! Surrey!”

“Talbot! Saint George, for England! Down with the friends of the usurper!” echoed among the belligerents, who fought against each other with the desperation of wolves. . .

. . .Sword and dagger were speedily shivered in the melée , when they fastened on each other by the throat, or wherever else they could lay their hands, and tumbling from their saddles, were trampled beneath the hoofs of their own steeds. The Earl, intent on revenging the death of his father the Duke of Norfolk, fought with reckless courage, and approaching the veteran Sir Gilbert Talbot, engaged with him hand to hand. Overpowered, however by numbers, his strength was beginning to fail, when Sir Richard Clarendon, and Sir William Conyers, raised the war cry of the Earl, and spurred in to his rescue—which was again cut off by Sir John Savage, who waving his sword around him, already drenched with blood, encompassed them with a party of his followers, when they were immediately cut to pieces, and the Earl taken prisoner. . .

. . .The battle had now lasted above an hour. The advantage was on the side of Richmond, Richard having lost his two principal officers; when a scout came upon the full run, and informed the King, that Richmond was at hand with a slight attendance. It was the opportunity for which the Monarch had thirsted throughout the day, and bidding those, who accounted themselves true knights, to attend him, he waited not for reply, but striking spurs, into the flanks of his gallant steed, rushed to the spot, and threw himself with irresistible force, upon his detested enemy. Sir William Brandon, the Earl’s standard bearer, was the first whom he approached, and tearing the lordly ensign of Cadwallador from his grasp, he hurled it beneath the hoofs of his steed, and with one stroke of his sword, clove the head of the unfortunate knight in twain.

Sir John Cheney, a powerful warrior, and several others were unhorsed, after a feeble resistance; and the Earl, himself, quailed before the sword of the avenger, while his army stood paralyzed at the extraordinary daring. At this juncture. Sir William Stanley, who had hitherto remained neutral, joined the Earl, with an army of three thousand men, which immediately turned the fortunes of the day.

Richard at Bosworth

The King’s chief commanders had already fallen. Most of his forces composing the rear, amounting to nearly three thousand men, placed under the command of the Earl of Northumberland, grounded their arms, and nearly all his followers, now abandoned his cause, leaving him to terminate his career of matchless valour. His intrepid spirit, notwithstanding the terrifying odds, still sought, through the thickest of his foes, the contender for his crown; and plunging recklessly forward, madly contending against a whole army, was brutally hacked to pieces by the Earl’s followers; who, whilst he was expiring on the ground, plunged their swords and daggers into his body.

Thus perished Richard the third, than whom a braver warrior and more politic king, perhaps, never existed. Prompted by ambition, his ruling passion, his Machiavelian subtlety led him through a terrible career of crime, to achieve and maintain his title to the crown. Thus his character, though it presents nothing absolutely despicable, will ever be contemplated with terror and abhorrence.

In this battle, which lasted little better than two hours, it is estimated that upwards of one thousand persons were slain on the side of Richard; and about one hundred, on that of Richmond. But, the chief part of Richard’s army, it appears, never struck a blow; the foulest treachery was employed by his officers, more especially by the Earl of Northumberland; and the Stanleys having joined his enemy with their important additions, sufficiently accounts for the loss of the battle. At the end of the conflict, the loss of Richard, did not greatly exceed that of his enemy—the frightful havoc took place in the after pursuit, in which the Earl and Lord Stanley joined, while Sir William remained to pillage the field.

Richard III's body is brought back to Leicester. Artwork by Victor Ambrus

Richard III’s body is brought back to Leicester. Artwork by Victor Ambrus

It is not our purpose or desire, nor can we think it would be at all acceptable to the reader, to follow the earthly remains of the vanquished king, through the savage and unexampled degradation to which they were subjected, by a cruel and barbarian rabble—promoted, there is little reason to doubt, by his base and unprincipled successor. We therefore gladly close the scene. . .

Postscript: There is another, much shorter story touching upon Richard in the book, called ‘A Night at the Blue Boar Inn’. The gist of it is that a man wishes to have a room at the Blue Boar, but there is only one chamber left, and the innkeeper will only supply it if the man is aware of the rumours that abound concerning it. “Simpletons believe the room to be haunted, and declare that they have heard certain noises in the night, like the chinking of coins and voices in angry altercation.”

The traveller replies that he’s not afraid. “His Majesty’s couch shall be mine for the night, and doubtless will yield me sound repose.”

Another customer nearby explains more. “King Dick prized his gold, and probably left some behind which he is in the habit of watching. . .”

 

 

 

 

Autumn dig at Chirk Castle promises to be exciting….

Chirk Castle

It seems that during the medieval period, no fewer than five holders of Chirk Castle were executed for treason. With that track record, I trust the National Trust intends to tread very carefully when it looks into the castle’s past and secrets this autumn.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, also held Chirk for a while, so here we have yet another great castle with Ricardian connections.  It belongs to the Myddleton family now, and has done since the end of the sixteenth century, and they still live in one of the towers.

 

 

 

THE PRIVY PURSE ACCOUNTS OF HENRY VII 1491 to 1505

Is there anyone else like me who enjoys a good nosy around someone’s privy purse accounts.  They can tell us so much about that person.  For example, Henry VII’s Privy Purse Accounts.  From them we can glean, for example,  how did Henry spend his time relaxing , after doing a hard day’s usurping?    Well it would seem Henry liked DANCING Not himself , of course, but watching others..for example:

September 5th 1493.  ‘To the young damoysell that daunceth £30’ .   She must have been good, £30 being an outrageously inflated amount..and indeed,

IMG_4634.jpg

this young lady fared rather better than ‘a litelle madden that daunceth’ who received a mere  £12 on the January 7th 1497 – but still, nice work if you can get it,  considering that on June 8th ‘the maydens of Lambeth for a May’ received a measly 10s to share out between themselves.  Henry’s enjoyment of watching dancing was just not limited to  damsels and maidens for he also enjoyed Morris dancing – well if you can call it dancing – for on January 4th ‘for playing of the Mourice dance’ earned the participants £2.

MUSIC – Another favourite way of whiling away the time for Henry.  Numerous payments for ‘mynystrels’ are recorded including on February 4th 1492 including  ‘a childe that played on the record’ received £1 and  the ‘mynystrels that played in the Swan’ received 13s and 4d.  Interestingly Richard III ‘s mother, Cicely Neville’s minstrels, received the sum of £1 and to ‘children for ‘singing in the gardyn’ at Canterbury 3s and 4d.

BLING.. Henry evidently was a man who loved bling –  paying out £3800 for ‘many precyous stones and riche perlis bought of Lambardes for  the ‘garnyshing of salads, shapnes and helemytes’, 27th May 1492.   Henry certainly had a thing for decorating his armour and helmets for in June 30th 1497 £10 was paid to the Queen to cover her costs of ‘garnyshing of a salet’.   Now whether the Queens attempts were not up to scratch or perhaps she tired of the project for a few days later on August 9th John Vandelft, a jeweller was paid £38.1s.4d for the ‘garnyshing of a salett’.  Was this the same salet, I  know not, and how many salets would one man require?  No doubt he looked a sight for sore eyes unfortunately no details survive of said salets however may they have looked something on these lines except more blingy..

helmet studies albrech durer 1503.jpg

or this….IMG_4002.JPGor perhaps something more  modest ?

images.jpeg

Your guess is as good as mine dear reader.

JEWELS

Of course Henry liked jewellery in general and not just  for adorning his armour.  This would have been silly  because it could have got damaged if he had found himself in the midst of a battle without a convenient pike wall to hide behind as well he would have stood out like a sore thumb but I digress… On June 12th 1495 a further payment of £2560 was made to ‘Lumbards’  for ‘diverse juels’. In June 1498 a payment of £2000 was paid for ‘Delivered and sent over the see for sertayn juels of gold, £2000’.  On 30 July of the same year a further payment of £2648.9s ‘for sertayn jules bought in France’.    However he was not always so extravagant paying out smaller sums now and again, for example, June 24th ‘for an ouch sett with Perle and stone £100’ and May 16 to Robert Wright for a ‘ring with a diamond £20’.

PETS

Henry, it is said, loved greyhounds.  He had two favourites…IMG_3998.JPG

 a descendant of one of Henry’s favourite greyhounds..Morton 

 

banner-5.jpg

 Bray…from the same litter… these dogs predecessors liked nothing more than fawning around their Master..as dogs do.

Henry loved his greyhounds so much so he would pay damages for any destruction caused by said pets…..hence on 13 March 1495,  4s was paid to ‘Rede for a colt that was slayn with the Kings greyhounds’.  Details of greyhounds purchased include a payment of 14s 4d to ‘Cobbe of the stable for a grey hounde’.  And ‘to the one that brought the king a whit greyhound from Brutan, £1’.

Henry also liked birds, Popinjays are mentioned several times so they must have held a certain appeal for him paying ‘Richard Dekon for a popyngchey £6 13s 4d’ on 14th January 1498.

Unknown.jpeg

A popinjay descended from Henry’s favourite bird  who was known as Buck.  Buck was not very bright but brightly coloured and flamboyant..

SENSE OF FAIR PLAY

Henry, despite what his traducers say, did possess a sense of fair play.  Yes he did.  For example he paid out in February 27th 1495 , £15.19s for Sir William Stanley’s burial at Syon.  This was as well as the  £10 that was given to Sir William ‘at his execution’ on the 20th February.  You cannot say fairer than that.   It should also be remembered that he paid for a ‘tombe’ for King Richard III on the 11 August 1495,  the not to be sneezed at amount of £10 1s.  This was only a third of what had been paid to the young damoysel that daunced its true,  but why be petty?  On Dec 8th 1499 ‘Payed for the buriell of therle of Warwick by  iiij bills, £12.18s 2d’.  I can find no trace of a payment for the burial of Warbeck, perhaps he was simply cast in a hole or mass burial site (1).   Henry could hardly have been expected to shell out for every traitors burial.

38636.jpg

Austin Friars from an original study by John Preston Neale 1801

THE QUENES DEBTS

Another misconception is that Henry was an indifferent and cold husband.  This is not on.   Perhaps he was merely cross having regularly to either pay off the Queens debts, mostly incurred through gambling or give her loans. On November 30th 1493 ‘delivered to Master Chaderton by thanks of William Hungate to pay the Quenes detts £1314 lls 6d’.  He also lent her £100 at Shene on the 2 April 1494.  A further £2000 was ‘delivered to the Queen’s grace for to pay her detts which has to be repayed’ on 1 February 1497.  I should think so too!.

FASHION SENSE.  

Several mentions are made of purchases of clothing.  January 6th 1494 ‘for an ostrich skin for a stomacher £1 4s.  This is the only mention of an ostrich skin being used for that purpose. So Henry was definitely a fashion guru.  No depiction survives, unfortunately, of the said stomacher but I have found a picture of an ostrich skin hat which may provide a clue as to what the garment may have looked like:

 

s-l1600.jpgAll the above I have gleaned from Excerpta Historica Samuel Bentley.  There are many  interesting examples of the expenses, too many to mention here.  Having said that that I cannot close without mentioning:

January 6 1494 for ‘clothing mad for Dick the fole £1.15s.7d’  (Dick or Dikks the foule gets several mentions)

February 10 1492 ‘to a litell feloo of Shaftesbury £1

January 20th 1495 the ‘immense bribe’ of £500 that was ‘delivered to Sir Robert Clifford by thand of Master Bray ‘(who else!) for basically payment for the betraying of Sir William Stanley.  Further to this £26 13s 4d paid to William Hoton and Harry Wodeford ‘for the bringing of Sir Robert Clifford in rewards’ i.e. this was a reward given to the persons who had so successfully negotiated with Clifford (2)

And finally I would love to know what happened regarding the 6s 8d  paid for ‘the burying of a man that was slayn in my Lady Grey Chamber’ 27th May 1495?

MISSTRESS GREYS ROOM.jpg

 

(1) Perkin Warbeck’s body after it had been separated from its head, was taken to Austin Friars Church, where it was buried with ‘other gallow birds on the west side of the nave’ Perkin, a Story of Deception Ann Wroe p499. (Austin Friars Church was later destroyed by a bomb during the 2nd World War and hardly any traces remain save for a small garden area).

(2) Excerpta Histórica: or, Illustrations of English History Samuel Bentley pp 100.101

 

 

Another myth about men “not breaking oaths to Richard”. . . .

Henry's route through Wales in 1485

Well, I’ve heard the tale of Sir Rhys ap Thomas hiding under a bridge for Henry to march over him on the way to Bosworth, thus not breaking Sir Rhys’s oath of loyalty to Richard, but this is a new one on me!

Rhys ap Thomas under the bridge

Now we have this new variation, from  http://tudortimes.co.uk/military-warfare/1485-battle-of-bosworth/henrys-march :-

“. . .when Henry, now strengthened by Sir Rhys ap Thomas, and a contingent of men from North Wales, reached the town of Shrewsbury, to cross the Severn into England, the town gates were closed against him and the town bailiff, Thomas Mitton, announced that, as he had sworn allegiance to Richard, he could not allow Richmond to pass.

“The closure of the town of Gloucester to the Lancastrians in 1471, preventing the crossing of the Severn, had proved disastrous for them – would the same be the case for Henry at Shrewsbury? Henry assured the bailiff that he and his men would do no damage and that they would not interfere with his oath, but Mitton was adamant.

“The next morning however, there was a change of heart. . .due to the intervention of Sir William Stanley.

“Henry and his men passed through – apparently with Henry stepping his horse carefully over Mitton’s body, to preserve the word of the man’s oath – although the same story is told in other circumstances of other men, so may be apocryphal. Impressed by Henry, or perhaps cowed by Sir William, the town then paid £4 4s 10d for soldiers for him. . .”

shrewsbury_traitors_gate_640

               Traitors’ Gate, Shrewsbury town wall. Let’s hope it was the one Henry passed beneath!

But the above site is not the original source for this story. There is an earlier one.

“An interesting anecdote of Thomas Mytton is related in the following extract from Owen and Blakeway’s History of Shrewsbury, vol. i, p. 245, describing the incidents of the Earl of Richmond’s (Henry VII) march through Shropshire to Bosworth Field:- “He delayed his march to Shrewsbury till he was master of Forton and Montford Bridge, two points of main importance to his designs, as he was thus provided with a passage into the midland counties, even though this town should shut her gates upon him. Having secured that bridge, which, if the Salopians had been hearty in the cause of Richard, they would have broken down, his army encamped upon Forton Heath, and he despatched messengers to Shrewsbury to summon the town. When they arrived at the foot of the Welsh bridge, they found the place in a posture of defence; the gates shut, the portcullis let down, and the bailiffs within ready to give their answer. “The senior of these magistrates for that year was Thomas Mytton, Esq., whom we have lately seen as Sheriff of the county, engaged in the arrest of the Duke of Buckingham. He is described in an old chronicle as ‘ a stout wise gentleman’, and made answer that he knew the Earl for no King, but ‘ only Kynge Rychard, whose lyffetenants he and hys fellowe weare, and before he shoulde enter there, he should goe over hys belly’, meaninge thereby, continues our authority, ‘ that he would be slayne to the grounde and so to (be) roon over (by) him before he entryd; and that he protested vehemently upon the othe he dad taken.’

“Much conversaton, we may suppose, ensued, but Mr. Mytton continuing resolute, the Earl ‘ retornyd’, says our chronicle, ‘ wyth hys companye backe agayn to Forton . . . .’ On the following morning the negotiation with the Bailiffs of Shrewsbury was renewed, and the Earl assured the magistrates that he did not mean to hurt the town or any of its inhabitants, but only desired to pass on to try his right to the Crown. We are told that Mr. Mytton began to yeald to these suggestions, but that on account of the oath he had so lately taken to oppose the entrance of Richmond into Shrewbury, he adopted the ingenious expedient of lying down on the ground and permitting the Earl to step over him. Thereupon the portcullis was drawn up, and the Earl and his retinue admitted within the gates, to the general joy of the inhabitants, and received, we are assured, ‘ with an Ave chaire (Xaipe), and God speede the wel! the streets being strowed with hearbes and flowers, and their doores adorned with greene boughs, in testimony of a true hartie reception.'”

Well, Henry was still some way from Bosworth, so I imagine there are a few more such myths waiting in the wings. They’ll be throwing their cloaks over puddles next! Or dropping their garters!

 

Thomas Stanley, or, the man with the evil beard….

Thomas Stanley

For anyone interested in knowing what made slippery Lord Stanley tick, here is an excellent evaluation, save that Sir William was executed for refusing to oppose “Perkin”, not for supporting him. The man was a born opportunist and survivor. Full stop. Oh, and he had an evil beard!

 

What if Henry VII had been good-looking and charming….?

Hideous HenryIt occurred to me today that when it comes to being so very supportive of Richard III, we are helped (in a manner of speaking) by Henry Tudor being such a visual horror. Yes, truly. He was ugly inside and out. Loathsome. And his legacy of the House of Tudor was only brightened by Elizabeth I. The rest you can keep. Every last one of them. What a bunch. It’s difficult to picture, I know, but if Henry had been a handsome, delightful chap, what then?

So, might later reaction to Henry Tudor have been different if he too were good-looking, a brave warrior, and a just man with charm aplenty? Let’s face it, not one of those adjectives could be applied to Henry, who even cowered at the back when it came to battles. He was a miserly liar, coward and cheat, a dull clerk and an accountant with a full set of claws, whom fate conspired to put on the throne. Because of him, we lost Richard III, who would have gone on to be one of our great kings.

Oh, I make no bones about my totally biased and carved-in-stone judgement of both men. Henry even managed to die in his bed. How grossly unfair and unjust was that? He had overseen the hacking to death of the King of England, and had only been able to do that because Richard had been betrayed. Hm, Sir William Stanley sure as hell paid the price for that! No sympathy from me for him either.

And I do know that the book from which the above illustration is taken is far from complimentary about Richard – who is portrayed as Shakespeare’s fictional monster. Henry, I believe, is portrayed as his true self!

It’s hard, I know, but if you can just picture Henry as being more like Richard, would we still condemn him so savagely? Yes, we would. Perhaps not quite so savagely, but we’d still condemn him. He had no right to the throne, but stole it through treachery, without having any blood claim. It’s difficult to forgive that, but I still wonder if we’d be quite so vitriolic if the two men were a more balanced match?

 

William “Waste-all” Berkeley, the lord who out-Stanleyed the Stanleys at Bosworth….!

Berkley_Castle_by_Jan_Kip_1712Here is the story of yet another lord who betrayed Richard III at Bosworth. Oh, but wait a moment, this one betrayed Henry Tudor as well, now there’s a feat!

The man in question was William, eventually Marquess of Berkeley, but nicknamed “Waste-all”. He was 43 when he won the Battle of Nibley Green, which was fought on 20 March 1469 or 1470, depending upon which calendar one uses. The battle is famous now because it was the last to be fought in England by private feudal armies. William “was of an unusually haughty and headstrong disposition, and made himself so much feared by all around him that for several years before his father’s death none of the tenants would accept any lease without William’s joining in it”. Not an endearing character.

north_nibley

The village of North Nibley, Gloucestershire

He had an even more famous feud with Margaret Beauchamp, Countess of Shrewsbury (1404–14 June 1468) was the eldest daughter of the 13th Earl of Warwick, and by her marriage to the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, as his second wife, she was the mother of Lady Eleanor Talbot, Sir Humphrey Talbot, and Lady Elizabeth Talbot, Duchess of Norfolk, all names Ricardians will know well. But by her first marriage, she was the grandmother of Thomas Talbot, 2nd Baron Lisle , 2nd Viscount Lisle (c.1449-20 March 1470), who was aged 20 or 21 at the time of Nibley Green.Margaret Beauchamp, Countess of Shrewsbury (1404-1467) by James Basire the younger (London 1769 ¿ London 1822)

Margaret was a truly formidable woman who always fought tooth and claw what she considered to be hers and her children’s. She pursued years of feud with the equally formidable William Waste-all. They were “”two merciless natures not unevenly encountering”, as Smyth, the Berkeley family biographer and steward, recorded. The dispute was over manors and lands, including Berkeley Castle itself, which the Countess regarded as hers. Waste-all, needless to say, did not agree. One of the disputed manors was Wotton, not far from Berkeley, which Waste-all said the countess was occupying illegally. The dispute was not confined to legal means, including petitioning King Edward IV, but also by predatory attacks on each other’s territories, and fights between their servants and tenants. It was quite some quarrel, even by the standards of the day.

Berkeley (left) and Lisle (right)

Then, on 14 June 1468, the Countess Margaret died, and her estate—and the great dispute—passed to her grandson, the young Lord Lisle, who was eager to take up the cudgels. He plotted against Waste-all, using a treacherous Berkeley servant who then turned coat again and told Waste-all everything. The latter was monumentally furious. Lisle was livid. Letters were sent, threats made, and a challenge issued on 19 March 1469. The confrontation was set to take place the following day at Nibley Green, halfway between Wotton and Berkeley.

Re-enactment of Battle of Nibley Green

Re-enactment of the Battle of Nibley Green

Waste-all maintained a garrison at Berkeley Castle, which gave him an advantage over Lord Lisle. They faced each other at Nibley Green, 1000 men to 300 or so. It was an unequal conflict from the outset, and because his visor had not been lowered, hot-headed Lisle was shot with an arrow on the left side of his face. One of Waste-all’s supporters, named Black Will of the Forest of Dean, finished off the wounded man with a dagger. Lisle’s force fled, pursued by Waste-all’s. There was chaos as the latter and his great numbers descended on Wotton. Such was the ordeal for Lisle’s young wife, that sixteen days later she was brought to bed early of a stillborn son, thus ending her husband’s line.

All this took place as Warwick the “Kingmaker” was turning upon Edward IV. A few months later, Edward himself was a fugitive and Warwick had returned the displaced Lancastrian, Henry VI, to the throne. Then, the following year, Edward IV returned to overthrow Warwick and Henry VI at the Battle of Barnet. On 6 October 1473, the case was settled in favour of Waste-all, who must have thought it was all done and dusted.

However, he became mixed-up with Sir Edward Grey, brother-in-law (through her first husband) of Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s manipulative queen. Grey married the sister of the late Lord Lisle of Nibley Green, and decided to take up the Lisle claim through his wife. William Waste-all was on shakier ground now, with Elizabeth Woodville obviously set on upholding her brother-in-law’s side of it. Edward IV was always one for a quiet time in his marriage – if marriage it was, considering he was first married to the old Countess’s daughter, Lady Eleanor Talbot, who selfishly stayed alive for four years after he’d uttered his vows to Elizabeth! Oh, tangled webs… In due course Sir Edward Grey would indeed be created Lord Lisle by Richard III.

In the meantime, anxious to stay in favour with Edward IV, Waste-all had conveyed many manors and lands to the king’s younger son, the little Duke of York (soon to be one of the boys in the Tower). When Richard III came to the throne, and the Duke of York (and his elder brother, known as Edward V) were declared illegitimate because of the Eleanor Talbot marriage, everything returned to Waste-all. Did he dance a jig? Probably.

But it was now that he really earned his nickname, Waste-all. After subsequently gaining 68 Mowbray manors and other property across the realm, he set about giving or granting everything away in order to gain honours and distinctions. He conveyed 35 manors to Richard III, in return for the title Earl of Nottingham, and when Richard faced Henry Tudor at Bosworth, it was said that William Waste-all out-Stanleyed the Stanleys, by supporting one side with men, the other with money. Henry Tudor won, and returned the 35 manors to William Waste-all. Was fate hell-bent on helping the fellow?

Next Waste-all conveyed two castles and 28 manors to Sir William Stanley, and then parted with many more to Sir William and others. In his will he entailed Berkeley Castle and all remaining family possession on the Tudor king, reserving only a life interest in them. In return he was created Marquess of Berkeley. He ended up as Great Mareschal of England, but by the time he died, on 14th February, 1492, he had disinherited his entire family. What a Valentine. Small wonder he gained the soubriquet Waste-all!

berkeleycastle

But there is a postscript. Waste-all had no legitimate children, and so his heir was his younger brother, Maurice, whom Waste-all considered to have married beneath his rank and thus brought shame on the family. What nerve, considering his own antics.

Was Waste-all giving everything away in order to punish Maurice, who eventually inherited the title, with nothing to go with it? If this is true, it was a terrible act of spite from nasty old Waste-all, who wasn’t exactly a dazzling adornment to the title of Berkeley.

You will find much more about him and the Battle of Nibley Green at

https://www.rotwang.co.uk/hob_chapter_05.html

 

 

Stanley and the Stanley Knife

They are sharp and good for purposes both fair and foul, and might even be handy for some back-stabbing (should one be of that disposition!)

What am I talking about? The Stanley Knife.

Jokes abound on certain medieval groups about these multi purpose knives being something that should have been invented by the two side-shifting, game-playing Stanley Bros of the 15thc…so I thought I would endeavour to find out if there was indeed a connection.

Here is what I’ve found…

A WILLIAM Stanley invented the Stanley Knife. No, not the one who Henry Tudor executed when he suggested Perkin Warbeck might be the ‘real deal’ but William Stanley, born in Islington in 1829. He was the son of a mechanic called John Stanley and was a descendant of  Thomas Stanley–not THAT particular Thomas Stanley, but the one who wrote The History of Philosophy in the 17th c. Author-philosopher Stanley was the son of Sir Thomas Stanley of Cumberlow, who—and this is where it gets interesting—happened to be the grandson of  yet another Thomas Stanley (they loved the name Thomas, those Stanleys! Doubting Thomases?), an illegitimate son of Edward Stanley, third Earl of Derby. Edward Stanley was the son of Thomas Stanley (that name again!) the 2nd Earl, who was, in turn, the son of George Stanley…you might also know George as Lord Strange, who was held at Bosworth by  Richard for  the good behaviour of his father, THE Thomas Stanley.

(The story goes that Stanley said Richard could go ahead and execute poor old George  because he ‘had other sons’; this may be purely mythical, however. Other falsehoods about Lord Strange is that he was a hapless innocent child held hostage by the nasty ‘baddie’ Richard—he was at least 24-25 at the time of Bosworth, and some sources list him as older still. A further interesting fact is that his wife Joan’s  mother Jacquetta was sister to Elizabeth Woodville.)

And so this leads us to George Stanley’s father, who was, of course, was Thomas the Trimmer, first Earl of Derby, step-father to Henry Tudor and husband of Margaret Beaufort–so yes, one could indeed say the Stanley Knife is connected to that slippery lord and his kin.

I expect Lord Stanley would have approved.

stanleyknife

How did Henry VII find the tomb of King Arthur…?

King Arthur

King Arthur

 

 The following article is based on books by Chris Barber and David Pykitt, so I do not claim anything as my own work. The books are The Legacy of King Arthur and Journey to Avalon. It is also based on a third book by Chris Barber called King Arthur: The Mystery Unravelled, which contains more about Henry VII and King Arthur. The illustration of St Armel’s tomb is also from one of the books, the rest I found by Googling. I recommend all three works as fascinating reads about the eternally fascinating King Arthur.

According to the above authors, Henry VII knew that he was not only descended from King Arthur, but also the identity that the king assumed, and exactly where he was buried.

These are astonishing claims, because to this day no one else really knows,  so how come Henry VII was au fait with these astonishing details back in the 15th century? I mean, we all know how cunning and secretive Henry was, so he was quite capable of inventing it all, but the inference in the above books is that there was nothing invented at all. Henry was on the level. According to his lights.

Arthur and Bedivere

The thing about Arthur, has always been that when he was “mortally” wounded at his last battle, now thought to be Camlann (the whereabouts of which is not known), he just disappears. We have the story of Sir Bedivere having to be told three times to throw Excalibur into the water to the Lady of the Lake, and that’s…well, the end of it, really. He was last seen being taken away across water to be healed by magic of some sort. Of course, I’m referring to the later romances, not the real Arthur, who was a Dark Age war leader, but even so, the outcome is the same. No one knows what happened to him. Except for Henry Tudor, who, somehow, had all the facts.

Henry - Dodd, Old London Bridge 1745 (2)

Henry VII

Henry was proud of his Welsh roots. At least, he was when he needed his countrymen’s help to usurp the throne of Richard III. After that, he didn’t do much for Wales or the Welsh…except decide to claim King Arthur for himself. Arthur being Welsh too, you understand. Well, that’s my opinion, but I know there are a lot of other theories about the who, where, what and why of the real Arthur.

According to Barber and Pykitt, as far back as the eighteenth century, Arthur was known to be the hereditary leader of the Silures in South Wales, yet the vast majority of modern historians choose to ignore this, placing him anywhere and everywhere except South Wales. Oh, with a passing mention of Caerleon. Hmm, it must be a general failing of modern historians, to ignore obvious truths in order to feed a traditional obsession.

An examination of early Welsh genealogies revealed to Barber and Pykitt that a misinterpretation by academics had mixed up two Arthurs. Gildas, the monk, mentions a charioteer belonging to someone known as “The Bear”. The Celtic word for bear is “arth”, and so it is possible that the name Arthur is a nickname derived from the title Arthwyr. Whatever, the result was that the Welsh Arthrwys, whose title was Arthwyr, to a later century, and thus detaching him from the Arthur of legend and history. Once this mistake was discovered and corrected, the authors were able to locate not only Arthur’s court, the sites of his most of his principal battles and the Isle of Avalon, but even his final resting place in Brittany.

feuilleton-Armel1

In Nennius’s Historia Brittonem Arthur is described as not only a military leader, but a religious one too, which brings me to another important point in the story. Now, apart from the Arthur we all know, there was also a soldier-saint named Arthmael (Bear Prince), or Armel. He is portrayed wearing armour—in his guise as “Miles Fortissimus” (Mighty Warrior).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

St Armel – Church of Our Lady, Merevale

He liberated Brittany from the 6th-century tyranny of Marcus Conomorus. This soldier-saint is known to us now as St Armel (Feast Day tomorrow, 16th August), and his tomb can be seen to this day in Armel’s church at Ploërmel. The stone sarcophagus is empty now, but the identification of the saint’s resting place is definite. There is a gilded casket which is said to contain the saint’s jawbone. The church itself has been rebuilt on the site of the original church, and the tomb incorporated.

St Armel's Tomb

Barber and Pykitt have concluded that after Arthur was deposed and apparently fatally wounded in England, he actually went into exile in Brittany—“Little Britain”, where so many of his countrymen were to be found. Thus arose the story of the Once and Future King, because Arthur didn’t die as such, he simply disappeared, leaving his fate unknown to his countrymen. They, of course, hoped he would return. Then, in Brittany, Arthur became St Armel, the Bear Prince, using all his warrior skills to lead the Bretons to freedom. Crucially, St Armel was also an exiled Welshman, and so Henry would certainly feel an affinity with him, if nothing else. Is this connection rather a great leap? Who can say? After all, the authors’ reasoning concerning so many names that contain “bear” in one form or another, seems perfectly logical.

St Armel, a dragon-slayer like St George, was most certainly one of Henry VII’s favourite saints, appearing among the many saints in Henry’s amazing chapel in Westminster Abbey. And Henry, in his determination to establish his links to Arthur, made sure that his firstborn son was not only born in  Winchester, but also christened with the name Arthur. Winchester was the ancient capital of the Kings of Britain, and believed (by Malory) to be the site of Camelot. Whether Henry VII agreed with the latter is debatable. After all, surely he’d have preferred Camelot to be somewhere in Wales. But what the heck, in the 15th century Winchester was where it was at, as the saying goes. It had even possessed the famous Round Table since the time of Edward I. The table that hangs in Winchester was painted as we know it now by Henry VIII, and so after Henry VII would have known it in its green-and-white guise.

It all went awry, of course, because young Arthur, heir to the throne of England, died before his father. So there wasn’t a second King Arthur, just another Henry. And what a Henry. Say no more. Please.

There is a lot of extra detail and explanation in the books, both of which are well worth reading. When Henry and his uncle, Jasper Tudor, fled from Britain in 1471, he believed that he was saved from shipwreck off the coast of Brittany by none other than St Armel. The dragon-slaying Welsh saint always featured prominently throughout Henry’s life, and is represented in his chapel (more a cathedral) at Westminster Abbey.

Henry_VII_Chapel_Canaletto

Henry VII Chapel, Westminster Abbey Canaletto

Of course, Henry spent a long time as a captive in Brittany, hunted unsuccessfully by two kings of England, Edward IV and Richard III. In Brittany it was known there was a King Arthur and a St Armel, but the connection between the two had apparently not been made. Ploërmel, where St Armel was buried, is not far from some of the places where Henry was held. (See the example of Chateau de Largoët below – and see more of Henry’s early life in Brittany here)

Chateau de Largoet, outside the town of Elven

Chateau de Largoet, outside the town of Elven

If nothing else, Henry was a sharp cookie, and quite capable of putting two and two together to make a total that might be true and that definitely suited him. He would have heard the local tales and memories, so maybe—just maybe—he drew the same conclusions that Barber and Pykitt would all these centuries later, to wit, that the saint and King Arthur were one and the same.

We’ll never know the truth, of course. But one thing we can be sure of with Henry, he went out of his way to claim descent from Arthur, and brandished this claim at every opportunity. His purpose was to imprint the belief that his occupation of the throne was justified. Which it certainly wasn’t, except by conquest. His lineage was, if anything, a hindrance. He had no right to the crown of England, and only won at Bosworth through a fluke (by the name of Sir William Stanley).

Were it not for “Judas” Stanley, Henry and his grand Arthurian claims would have been consigned to history. Hardly remembered at all, in fact. A mere footnote – as the loser on 22nd August 1485.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: